Inside Detroit Tigers' Victor Martinez's final game, start to finish
Anthony Fenech Detroit Free Press Published 8:00 AM EDT Sep 23, 2018 The hardest part, Victor Martinez said, was the drive to the ballpark. It takes about 30 minutes from his home in Birmingham to Comerica Park, but on Saturday afternoon, it felt like three hours. “I didn’t want to get to the field,” he said. “And
The hardest part, Victor Martinez said, was the drive to the ballpark.
It takes about 30 minutes from his home in Birmingham to Comerica Park, but on Saturday afternoon, it felt like three hours.
“I didn’t want to get to the field,” he said. “And I knew this day was coming, but even if I say I’m ready or not, I didn’t want to get to the field.”
When he did, to close one chapter of his life — 16 seasons of excellence in hitting — he continued to create the next chapter, sitting in front of his locker, laying out more plans for his cattle ranch in a teal notebook. There would be tears and laughs and gifts during a pregame ceremony — Martinez will get the most use out of his new custom cowboy boots and a horse saddle with the Olde English ‘D’ on it — and a heartfelt thank you to Tigers fans.
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Fighting back tears, Martinez said, “From the bottom of my heart, I can only say thank you. Thank you for being behind us all these years, supporting my teammates, supporting myself. … Thank you very much.”
Minutes later, Martinez would run onto the field for the first time this season, and last time ever, assuming his old position at first base. He would come to the plate fourth in the bottom of the first inning and bust his butt to first base, ending his career with an infield hit.
“It was the perfect at-bat to describe my career,” Martinez said. “I had to sweat it out. I had to sweat it out the whole way. I had to grind it. That was my whole career, grinding.”
After hit No. 2,153, Martinez — as previously planned with manager Ron Gardenhire — was removed for a pinch-runner and left the field to a standing ovation.
“That was the way I wanted to go out,” he said.
Asked what was going through his head while strolling to the dugout, Martinez said, “Gardy’s crazy. I just beat out an infield single and he’s pinch-running for me?”
Martinez, 39, knew this day was coming for years. That it came on Saturday night was a testament to his awareness of the situation: He wanted to go out in front of Tigers fans, who have adored him since he arrived in 2011.
“This was definitely a day I will always remember,” he said. “I don’t have enough words to thank everybody here in Detroit, especially the fans. They not only made me a better player, but they made me a better person. I thank them for that.”
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The cleats he wore paid tribute to his hometown in Venezuela, and the teams he played for. On the back, in Spanish, read, “The boy of Ciudad Bolivar who left footprints in MLB. I love you.”
“It was a fun day for all of us,” Gardenhire said. “His family being out there was really cool and him going out the way he did, with an infield hit, who would’ve thunk it?”
Martinez finishes his career as a .295 hitter with 246 home runs and 1,178 RBIs. He was a five-time American League All-Star, two-time AL Silver Slugger Award winner and was considered the heartbeat of the Tigers’ perennial contending days of yesteryear.
“That’s been the coolest part of this year, for me,” Gardenhire said. “Being a part of watching him end his career and seeing how professional he is and how much he’s meant to this clubhouse. It’s been a pleasure, I can tell you that.”
The gifts kept coming afterwards. The Tigers’ coaching staff bought him a big bottle of Dom Perignon, so big, it came in a crate. Then, he addressed his teammates before they showered him with whatever they could find.
“If you could have been in that clubhouse and seen him in there,” Gardenhire said. “All the players were looking at him and you could see how much they respected him. That tells you all you need to know about this guy.
“He spoke to the guys and it was heartfelt. I was looking at the players’ eyes. … You see things like this in the game and it really tells you how much baseball really means to people.”
Afterwards, as he spoke to reporters, an Al Kaline jersey hung on the door of clubhouse manager Jim Schmakel’s office. Kaline signed his number, “To Victor, my friend.” His son, 14-year-old Victor Jose, long a staple inside the clubhouse, listened in from Nicholas Castellanos’ chair. Castellanos’ young son, Liam, asked why Martinez was retiring. “He’s too old,” Victor Jose said.
With a huge throng of family patiently waiting outside — they were going to have fun on this night, they promised — Martinez spoke of what he would miss most.
“This right here,” he said. “The clubhouse.”
Contact Anthony Fenech: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @anthonyfenech.
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